Myth About Basking In Yemen Chameleons Unleashed...


Why do Yemen chameleons bask in captivity at extremely high temperatures even over 40°C/100°F, why they burn their casques and back and why this is all unnatural?

In Yemen, the Yemen Chameleons live in very similar conditions, like the Jackson's in Kenya, though most of the people would, based on lack of knowledge, agree against it.

Yemen chameleons live even substantially higher than Jackson's and further from equator, therefore, they encounter much lower temps at night than Jackson's in the cold months of the year!

They live and thrive between 2000-2500m (6000-7500ft) high in Hejaz Mountains in areas with annual rainfall exceeding 2000mm, concentrated into 6months of the year only! The maximum daily temperatures in the warmest months of the year are 28-30°C (82-86°F) with warmest nights around 18°C (64°F) only!!! In the coldest periods of the year, the daytime temperatures merely exceed 21°C (70°F) and the nighttime drop can go to 5-7°C (low 40s °F) occasionally also to freezing point!

They live basically in deep Valleys called Wadis, where due to the high surrounding peeks, the sun rises above the horizon only around 10 AM and and disappears behind the opposite mountain ridge around 5 PM!

They sit whole night in dense fog at cold temperatures and wait the sun to come. And when the sun finally comes, after the fog rises in form of clouds above the ridges of the mountains, they start to bask at 10AM at temperatures around 20°C (low 70s °F) at basking spot with temperatures not exceeding 27°C (80°F). After 20 minutes their body temperature raises enough and they stop basking and spend the entire day in deep shade of the trees. They might occasionally bask for few minutes after a longer period of bad weather with the skies covered with clouds, after rain or at 4-5PM, before the sun disappears behind the mountains.

There are several YouTube showing Yemen Chameleons in the middle of the day sitting in the sun on the tops of the Acacia trees. The problem is, they are only males. They are only dominant males, which do not bask, they do the territorial display! Due to special adaptations, they can tolerate much higher temperatures and UV exposure. 

But they don't bask!

So, understand that their natural programming is due to the cold environment, that they live in:

"Bask at highest possible temperature, when you bask".

But the highest possible temperature in the wild does not exceed 80°F! So, if you offer them more, they follow the natural instinct and bask as high as possible. But this never happens in the wild. This is why you shorten the lifespan through overheating them. Most of people overheat the species by 5 to 15° all life long due to wrong recommendations of the care sheets uncritically parotted in the cyberspace. So, it is not a miracle why they die usually in 3 to 5 years of age instead of 16 which they can reach in captivity.

And this is also why they burn their casques. In the wild, they cannot come too close to the sun - it is 150 millions of kilometers far. But following the natural programming, they get as warm as possible and they get as close as possible to the source of heat, because they have no protection mechanism to tell them that it is too hot! During millions of years of their evolution there was no single incident when a Yemen Chamaeleon would be burned by source of heat, they have no evolutionary experience with that. So, they follow the programming and get as close as possible to the source of heat and they burn the casques, their back's and their bodies in captivity getting too close to a basking bulb.

What to do?

1. Do not overheat them at nighttime: temperatures under 18 °C are ideal

2. Do not overheat them at daytime: temperature is ok around 20-22°C (maximum at mid 70s °F)

3. Do not overbask them in time: two times a day 30minutes is perfectly enough

4. Do not overbask them in temperature: basking spot at 27°C (80°F) is perfectly enough

5. Keep them dar away from the heat source not to burn their casques and backs and bodies

6. Beware, the intensity of heat increases with the square of the distance to the heat source (two times closer means 4times as much heat)

Author: Petr Nečas